It’s that time again! The latest recipients of Jetstar’s Flying Start grant were announced yesterday in the New Zealand Herald as the Avonside Girls High School Dragon Boat team. The girls have held the competition at bay for the past two years, holding on to their national title despite the obvious hardships and handicaps that come with living in quake damaged Christchurch.
The girls are hitting the road – or more accurately, the skies – in April, heading to Adelaide to compete in the Club Crew World Dragon Boating Championships. The logistics and financial commitment required to transport and accomodate the 26 girls from Year 12 and 13 are immense. The team had raised about 20k of the $50,000 needed for the trip and now, with the help of the Flying Start grant ($15,000 cash and $15,000 worth of flights) they are able to focus on their prep and do what they do best – win!
I chatted with two members of the girl’s support team, Coach Evan Roper and the fab mum who nominated the team for the grant, Nikki, about what this opportunity means to the team and wider community.
1. How did you announce the news to everyone? I imagine it was VERY loud with lots of #SQUEE!
Nikki – Yes, I let Grant (Head of NZ Jetstar) do the honors. After gathering the girls around, I admitted to them that we had lied to them and that they were not there for a photo shoot for a ‘small local rag’ – which is what we had told them. I then introduced Grant and Phil. Grant told the girls about what the grant was and that they had made the short list. He then paused and said “sorry, I’ve lied to you too – you have actually won”. The girls squealed, screamed, cried, high fived and hugged each other – as did the other coach and some of the parents that were there (who of course did not know either). Grant was then treated to some dragon chanting – very loud – and even a wee trip in the boat, where they introduced him to their “side to side” chant (that includes tipping the boat from side to side).
2. What does the Jetstar Flying Start Grant mean for the team?
Evan – The cost to send the team of 28 to Adelaide is close to $50,000. Breaking that down to an individual cost of around $2,200 per student. The families of the girls who attend Avonside would generally not have a spare $2,000 to pay for their daughters trip. The only way this venture was going to be possible was with a tremendous amount of fundraising. The parents of the girls in the team have been tremendously supportive and inventive with fundraising ideas. They have sold wine, pies, frozen fish fillets. There have been sausage sizzles at Bunnings, car washes, quiz nights, stock taking nights for the Warehouse and raffles. The parents are manning food stalls at the 5 regattas that are held locally and at the finish line of the Coast to Coast event. One parent, Rhys Pocklington, who has twin daughters in the team, (Emma and Shannon) owns a car yard. He has generously offered some sponsorship for the team. The photo of the team shows them wearing the travelling tops that have his motor vehicle company name on the back of the top. (Black and White Motor vehicle Company). He has also bought a tent for the team to use at local regattas, again with his signage on it, and is paying the girls to clean the cars in the car yard twice a week. The girls have divided themselves into groups and undertake this work on a rostered basis.
Winning the Jetstar Flying Start Grant has been of HUGE benefit to our fundraising efforts. The amount of the grant, coupled with the fundraising efforts undertaken so far, will mean that the families of the daughters will not have to pay out much money at all from their own bank accounts when we head away to Adelaide.
The pressure of needing to raise $2,000 per week has been a constant worry for most of the parents of the team members and this grant has alleviated much of that pressure and stress.
3. How are you preparing for the Aussie trip? Is training mental right now?
Evan – We started training on the water in September of 2015. On water trainings have been twice a week until the end of January. We are now training 3 times per week on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Before school works better than after school so that means a very early start to the day 3 times per week. We meet at 0600 at the boat yard. On the water between 0615 and 0715 and then the girls head to school at 0730. Getting to training for 0600 means they are probably getting up at 0500. That’s real dedication for you and a testament to the desire within this team.
4. How has being a part of this team helped with life post-quake in Christchurch?
Nikki – Obviously the pride in the community for a start – there’s so much negativity here (insurance issues, problems with EQC, large parts of unwelcoming bare land, etc) that it is nice that the girls have something positive to focus on and work towards.
5. Do you feel like this particular squad will be leaving a legacy for students to come as they progress though their years at Avonside?
Nikki – Absolutely – some of the past Avonside girls still support the current team – and there’s nothing like knowing going into a new year that there are big shoes to fill. Most of the girls welcome that kind of pressure.
Evan – The answer to that is unreservedly – YES. It seems that with the passing of each season, the team performance has improved. 2011 saw the team win it’s first medal at a major regatta – 3rd place in the 200m at the South Island Championships)
2012 saw the team medal again at South Islands (2nd place in the 200m) and our first medals at Nationals. (2nd in the 200m and 3rd in the 500m). 2013 saw more medals at South Islands (2nd place in each of the three distances we race over. 200m, 500m and 2,000m) Results at the National Championships replicated the previous season with a 2nd in the 200m and 3rd in the 500m.
2014 was a stellar year. Christchurch Girls High School had held the mantle of top girls team for many years and any victory over them was hard to achieve. This season saw us build a formidable team that won every race against every other school girls team in every regatta with one exception. The only loss the Avonside team suffered that year was in the very last race of the Nationals Championships where they finished a close 3rd in the 2,000m race, only 5 seconds off first place. Trophies won that year included the Akaroa Super 12 regatta, Aoraki Open (Canterbury Champs), the Johnson Cup, awarded at South Islands to the winner of the 500m race and the Grand Champion Trophy for the winner of the 500m race atNationals. 2015 saw the team struggle to repeat the dominance of the previous season but still saw the team win gold medals at South Islands (200m and 2,000m races) and the Nationals (retaining the much sort after Grand Champion trophy for winning the 500m distance.)
This years team is living up to the high standards set by the teams that have gone before them. They are forming into a close knit team with exceptional leaders and the motivation and desire to win is very high indeed. The profile of the team has risen within the school and Dragon Boating is now viewed as being one of the premier sports that the school excels at. I have no doubts that this season is going to provide many highlights and will further enhance the standing of the team within the school.
6. (Silly question) I entered one Dragon Boating regatta in my years at high School……and my arm got really, really tired. I’ve always wanted to know if you switch sides when training/competing or are you a leftie or rightie every time?
Evan – Most of the girls try both sides when they are new to the team. A few are truly ambidextrous but most find that the paddling action feels more natural on one side so they tend to become much better on either the left or the right side of the boat. I don’t think that is the best practice. Most articles I read on the subject suggest that paddlers should alternate sides to prevent their body from putting too much strain on a particular shoulder or muscle group. When I get the girls to try paddling on their unnatural side they look completely uncoordinated and quickly want to swap back to their natural side. I don’t force the issue. :-